The Knowledge Crisis Breaking Our Brains, Polluting Our Politics, and Corrupting Christian Community

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Pub Date 11 Oct 2022 | Archive Date 18 Nov 2022

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Which media outlets will help me be a responsible news consumer? How do I know what is true and whom I can trust? What can I do to combat all the misinformation and how it's impacting people I love?

Many Americans are agonizing over questions such as these, feeling unsure and overwhelmed in today's chaotic information environment.

American life and politics are suffering from a raging knowledge crisis, and the church is no exception. In Untrustworthy, Bonnie Kristian unpacks this crisis and explores ways to combat it in our own lives, families, and church communities.

Drawing from her extensive experience in journalism and her training as a theologian, Kristian explores social media, political and digital culture, online paranoia, and the press itself. She explains factors that contribute to our confusion and helps Christians pay attention to how we consume content and think about truth. Finally, she provides specific ways to take action, empowering readers to avoid succumbing to or fueling the knowledge crisis.

Which media outlets will help me be a responsible news consumer? How do I know what is true and whom I can trust? What can I do to combat all the misinformation and how it's impacting people I love?

Advance Praise

“Many of us have a sense that all we once took for granted is now up for grabs. We are living through a crisis of knowledge, and the result can be a feeling of suffocating uncertainty. Untrustworthy opens a window and lets in a breath of fresh air—and hope. Bonnie Kristian offers a way out of pointless debates and fearmongering conspiracies. This book is never condescending and always sympathetic; it is never partisan and always incisive.”—Jeffrey Bilbro, author of Reading the Times

“We are living in the midst of a truth crisis. Every single day information swamps our social media: popping up on our alerts or forwarded from friends. Not only do we not know what to believe but we also don’t know how to believe. This is why this book is so vitally important. Bonnie Kristian is a first-rate journalist who is uniquely able to sift through the layers of today’s truth crisis and help guide faithful Christians to know how to pursue knowledge and understand the times in ways that are in obedience to the lordship of Christ. She skillfully gets at the motivations that have caused a sense of distrust and alienation that drives us to extremes. This is a book the American church desperately needs and that pastors have been asking for. I’d urge you to give it a careful read and pass it on anyone in your sphere of influence.”—Daniel Darling, director of The Land Center for Cultural Engagement, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; author of A Way with Words

“‘Fake news,’ conspiracy theories, misleading claims, lies peddled as facts, facts dismissed as lies—we’re all familiar with the distressing evidence of our knowledge crisis. In Untrustworthy, Bonnie Kristian brings rare insight, charity, and wisdom to this pressing problem, clearly showing how we got here and, more importantly, suggesting concrete ways of working through the impasses tearing our churches, and our polity, apart.”—Damon Linker, author of The Theocons and The Religious Test

“Many of us have a sense that all we once took for granted is now up for grabs. We are living through a crisis of knowledge, and the result can be a feeling of suffocating uncertainty. Untrustworthy...

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Featured Reviews

"Untrustworthy: The Knowledge Crisis Breaking our Brains, Polluting our Politics, and Corrupting Christian Community" is an excellent resource written by Bonnie Kristian. Kristian discusses the current epidemic of loneliness that is spreading across our nation, which has only been exacerbated by the Internet. This loneliness and the resulting act of looking for connection online has consequences that are not only political, but also social and religious. We have lost our objectivity, and have no knowledge of our own blind spots. The author does a great job of outlining the consequences of social media, and she offers biblical advice that is easy to understand.

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC. All opinions are my own.

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There was a time when many people had to deal with information overload. With technological advancement, the challenges of managing information have not only grown but have also multiplied. No longer can we simply trust the stuff thrown at us, we need to question their authenticity more and more. Questions like: Who is the publisher? What is their agenda? What kind of people are they hiring? What do they stand to gain? What political alliances are they a part of? Who is funding their business? Is it fake news? These are fundamental questions dealing with the tip of the iceberg of published "facts" and gross misinformation trolling the Internet daily. Sometimes, when a piece of news is published, one has to ask why before accepting what was dished out to us. We are in an information crisis. How do we trust news that is presented to us as "facts?" Author Bonnie Kristian goes beyond such mass misinformation by calling this a "knowledge crisis" (technical term: "epistemic crisis") that permeates wide segments of society. For Christians, this is also a faith crisis. Based on her wide experience as a journalist, she notices the incredible amount of half-trust being masqueraded as facts for public consumption. Whether it is the left or the right, moderate or middle-ground, all are guilty of manipulating facts for their own ends. The difference lies in the extent of the manipulation. Unfortunately, those who believe such information wholesale had lept to drastic measures on their own lifestyles. Kristian shares how some folks who feared a Trump loss would lead to an economic disaster stopped buying a house or curtailed their economic activity. From gay marriages to conspiracy theories, politics to Covid-19 matters, and how news media has led to divisions in various communities, misinformation dominates our media. These have driven a wedge that divides societies all over the world, even families. In writing this book, author Bonnie Kristian has three key objectives:
1) Help us name the crisis
2) Identify its rotten fruits
3) Find the air that is still undefiled

She names three broad domains affected by the knowledge crisis. Politically, countries are divided as people feed on information that pushes them further apart. Socially, many well-intentioned individuals spread fear based on false news. Faith-wise, world media has increasingly moved people further away from biblical truth. Sadly, even Christian media are guilty of disseminating half-truths or biased opinions. From profit-making purposes to over-zealous proselytizing, it is increasingly difficult to be objective. On using social media, she warns us of the four ways we encounter "epistemic confusion." Such confusion leads to mob mentality behaviour that crucifies those who offer a view counter to mainstream views. People have been known to lose their jobs and be exposed to public shame via "cancel culture." She looks at conspiracy movements and reminds us with Proverbs 3:5 not to lean on our own understanding but on God. Plus, as people increasingly feel empowered by what they read on the Internet, they start challenging conventional experts and specialized training in a skeptical fashion. Gradually, Kristian offers us some hope to correct such scenarios. In "epistemic reconciliation," we learn that even when the Bible shows us glimpses of the Truth, we lack the capacity to comprehend them. We need new lenses to see Truth. Prayer, humility and wisdom to discern the differences between knowledge, opinion, and conjecture. Human beings are not as objective as they think they are. She promotes the three "epistemic virtues" of studiousness, intellectual honesty, and wisdom to counter our decaying environment of epistemic confusion. The chapter on "A Practical Epistemology" is worth the price of the book.

My Thoughts
There are many shrewd observations done by the author that most people don't normally see. She is spot on when examining how our modern culture is becoming more arrogant just because we know a little bit more from the Internet. Just as we demand humility from various experts in our world, we need to stay humble ourselves, to know that what we believe today may not be the whole truth. Perhaps, when we read about a certain piece of information or news from the Internet, it is good to even ask why we are shown that particular article at any one particular time. Are we being fed by certain algorithms to promote their views? Are we unwitting pawns being used by the tech titans of our day? Have we trusted dubious sources more and legitimate sources less? Have we lost our own ability to discern truth from falsehood? It has been said that we are what we do on social media. In a culture where many people think they are experts based on what they see on screens, we need great humility to begin questioning the things we see even before we start challenging the experts of the sciences and the arts. If we could all nip falsehood in the bud, we limit the spread of misinformation that could lead to unnecessary fear and public panic.

We need a renewed call for discerning actual facts from personal opinions. We need wisdom to differentiate the silent voices of truth versus the noisy cymbals of fads. For people of faith, we need the Word of God to shed light on the works and words of the world. The timeless truth is that we need to read and study the Bible more each day. Otherwise, we are vulnerable to many untruths. The Holy Spirit will guide us in all truth. The way of love, the humility of thought, and the fruit of the Spirit are all truths according to the Word of God. Kristian has given us a powerful clarion call to wake up from any slumber even as the world around us are sinking into epistemic confusion. We are called to be the light of the world, and not to become conduits of errors promoted by the world. Just as John Wesley famously said, "The world is my parish," we need to wake up and remind ourselves that the technological world is our new parish.

If you consume a lot of news online, this is a necessary read. If you do not read a lot on the Internet, this book is an important equipping resource. Whatever it is, it is helpful to remember that the Internet is not a neutral tool. It is a principality where the spiritual forces of darkness are thriving with. It is time to stand up and counter falsehood, beginning with not spreading falsehood. Let this book help initiate that.

Bonnie Kristian is an experienced journalist skilled in compelling opinion writing, concise news delivery, and meticulous editing. Bonnie is the author of A Flexible Faith: Rethinking What It Means to Follow Jesus Today (2018). As a deputy editor and acting editor-in-chief at The Week, Bonnie writes and edits opinion pieces on foreign policy, religion, criminal justice, urbanism, civil liberties, electoral politics, and more. Her column, "The Lesser Kingdom," appears in print and online at Christianity Today. Her work has also been published at outlets including USA Today, Defense One, the Los Angeles Times, CNN, Politico, Time, Reason, National Interest, and The American Conservative. A graduate of Bethel Seminary, she lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and twin sons.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.

This book has been provided courtesy of Brazos Press and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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In the past decade or so, I have encountered a veritable avalanche of questionable assertions based upon dubious facts (if any) obviously designed to manipulate their target audience. It seems as if people are more gullible than ever and this book tries to identify why we are apparently unable to separate fact from fiction. In fact … given the proliferation of slanted news “opinion” and poorly researched news “entertainment” re-enforced by misleading news “memes” … how to we know what is true and what is not.

The author tries to explain what the problem actually is, how we got here and what we should do about it … the later from a decided Christian perspective … and while I am generally in agreement on pretty much everything she says, I am not as optimistic. Yes … forwarding that “political” meme on facebook designed to falsely enflame the heart against your opponent is decided unchristian and we have an obligation to avoid such evil gossip … but that doesn’t seem to be much of an impediment for many American Christians (including members of my own family who, when forced to acknowledge what they are forwarding/saying was untrue, simply respond by saying they didn’t really mean it … and they just like to stir the pot … before doing the exact same thing again). Unfortunately I typically respond just like the author … with verified sources and debate trying to get them to recognize the error of their ways come back to reason and logic and fairness and christian love. It has taken me awhile to get there, but ultimately I did … you can’t win that argument … so just don’t engage. It is a hard lesson to be sure.

So how did we get to a place where alternative facts and relative truth are the norm? From the constant attribution of ‘fake news” to anything we don’t like to the tribal identity politics that denies any authority to dissenting voices … the media seems like the obvious place to start … and “There is something off here, but it’s generally not intentional, ideologically motivated inaccuracy, as so many American fear.” The optimism here is cute. I used to think this too; but, the battle lines now have been drawn and information is the weapon of choice in this war. While profit is still important, power is the real goal … significantly more than entertainment and speed. Profit here is easy when you have the ability to so easily manipulate your partisans with fear and anger (and Entertainment generally plays on a different set of emotions … or includes such more often than not). How we got here might be chalked up to profit and entertainment initially … but we are well beyond that now.

Regardless … while biased news is not really a recent phenomena, the ability of these news outlets to so easily manipulate their audience is (at least for Americans). They are simply taking advantage of the cracks in our society and the author does a very good job at identifying what these are (and even offers advice on how we, as christians, should respond). Ultimately the author provides a few healthy habits and some welcome advice by which we might be able to stem the tide of this “epistemic crisis” by our example … and maybe bring a few of our friends and family back from the brink … I mean, it has got to be better than simply walking away from them right?

I was given this free advance review copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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4.5/5…As a fellow believer with libertarian leanings, I have long paid attention to Bonnie’s various short-form works, as well as her previous, more theological, book, A Flexible Faith, which was a very unique examination of different denominations and big questions…a really great read for someone who maybe gets siloed into the beliefs and outlooks of their own tribe. As much as I spend maybe too much effort cultivating diverse sources left, right, libertarian, and center, in order to shake out an understanding of my world, it is nice to have a few sources that have a take that I am in accord with way more often than not.

After setting up her thesis, she then looks at subjects such as the failings of our varied media and modern cancel culture. If one pays attention to these matters in the day to day, factually, I wouldn’t say much here is earth-shattering, but the familiar is focused on at times via belief and scripture, which is of value. As a hater of cancel culture, it was interesting looking at it through the lens of forgiveness and redemption…not that I think a lot of it’s more notable practitioners right this minute seem to be down for a ton of either, though the right have canceled plenty as well.

What follows then, is an issue that I see impact way too many of my believer friends, who tend to be on the political right…a gravitation to conspiracy theories (QAnon anyone?). Bonnie then has some ideas for personal steps to try to face up to these friends in the real…which are obviously difficult to put into practice, but definitely better than the disengagement I have found myself falling into.

Then follows an interesting examination of one that has been driving me crazy in the era of say climate change skepticism and Covid-deniers…the tension between “ the death of expertise” and the many notable failings of our experts these last couple of years. What we non-experts should do, circling back to maybe a path of wisdom for experts. To me this more intellectual topic ties in nicely with the following chapter on how we can let our emotions lead us….and the sometimes triumph of emotion over intellect….yikes! I love the wrapup here as it applies to me…I need to do a better job of allowing emotion to supplement the intellect I most value in myself.

To me the later chapters then become more personal, kind of a metaphysical workbook for reflection and maybe personal growth in our outlook, our heart, our work and lifelong study, our habits and then also distractions from the important ….There’s always room for that.

I loved this opportunity to take a step back from our world and culture and reflect on it from a different point of view. Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC that allowed it!

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Kristian's excellent book engages the present epistemic crisis we face in Western culture due to the overabundance of accessible media, giving a description of how we got into crisis, what the crisis looks like, and prescriptively offering some ideas of how we might be able to push back against the crisis.
The descriptive chapters are insightful, and while she might be accused of some "both-sidesism", the examples given point to the fact that this epistemic crisis is not only found on one side of the political divide. Rather, we have a human tendency to listen more carefully to those who already agree with us, which our modern media environment (television, social media, etc) makes it far too easy to indulge without having to actually thoughtfully engage with those who disagree.
The payoff in the prescriptive chapters is realistic, not pretending to offer a silver bullet that will solve all these problems. If anything, it might feel more like a long defeat than a solution. Much of the solutions are inwardly focused, trying to help one's own pursuit of truth and preservation of relationships. While these are both incredibly necessary (as well as the also discussed overlooked-by-philosophers need for a practical epistemology), chances are that the people picking up this book are already more willing to be critical of their own ideas. However, the reminder to preserve our relationships and look to others to help us rather than focusing on all that they get wrong are things that I cannot be reminded of often enough. It reminds me of Dallas Willard who once talked about the practice of not having to have the last word. It isn't clear that this will actually make a difference in the larger culture, but it might make a change in me, which can influence those that I actually have meaningful relationships with.
This book is well worth picking up if you are tired of the disinformation that is perpetuated, and want to understand more clearly how we got to this place and contribute to making things better, at least in your corner of the world.

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Kristian's book is an excellent source for anyone wanting to understand how our society got to the point of being unable to figure out real news from "fake news." Kristian traces the downfall of public agreement deftly while also providing insightful commentary about the impact the erosion of public trust has had. Even better, Untrustworthy provides a hopeful and helpful framework for moving forward.

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My thoughts:
This book discusses the needed topic of media, truth, being informed, etc. The author gives great wisdom to the ever evolving media challenges. The thing that sets this book apart (especially in a Christian author perspective) is the background, knowledge, and experience of the author. It feels like an authentic and educated discussion because it is coming from a journalistic viewpoint. While there are Christian themes and discussion the book felt more focused and articulate about the issue than others would give.

Who is this book for?
The book is for anyone who is seeing, reading, watching, or engaging with media or news. Really that means almost everyone. The book (for me) did drag and loose my attention frequently but I did enjoy it and I wish some family who send biased stories and conspiracies would read it.

Critique, Questions, Comments
A very needed discussion written with authority and education backing it.

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An interesting read on the topic of information in our world today. Most readers will enjoy this book and gain some understanding about how information impacts them.

*I received a digital ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for my review.

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Thanks to the author for encouraging us to be critical thinker and guiding the way. This book is both practical and personal.

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